Golf legend, Olympic gold medalist, and advocate for women in sports honored with marker at namesake course

Hillsborough County recently installed a new historical marker to honor local sports icon Babe Zaharias. The marker, located at a Tampa golf course named after her, commends Zaharias' wide-ranging athletic accomplishments. It also recognizes her efforts toward evening the playing field for opportunities available to women in sports.

Zaharias was born in Port Arthur, Texas, in 1911. She was the sixth of seven children born to Norwegian immigrant parents. As a young woman, she excelled in a wide range of sports, particularly basketball. At the age of 21 she competed in the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. She won gold medals for the javelin throw and 80-meter hurdles, setting world records in both categories. She also earned the silver medal in the high jump.

Zaharias began playing golf in her 20s. Though she was considered a latecomer to the sport, Zaharias showed remarkable skill and became America's first female golf celebrity. She won numerous tournaments and eventually co-founded the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LGPA) in 1949. After winning every golf title available to women at that time, The Associated Press voted her Woman Athlete of the Half-Century in 1950.

It was while playing golf that Zaharias met her husband. Together, they moved to Hillsborough County in 1949 and purchased a golf course in North Tampa. Twenty-five years later, the City of Tampa took over the course and re-opened it as the Babe Zaharias Golf Course.

Zaharias is recognized not only for her incredible athleticism, but for the barriers she broke for female athletes. By competing and succeeding in athletic events traditionally only open to men, she disrupted long-held views on women's abilities and belonging in male-dominated sports. She helped people see women as legitimate athletes, deserving of respect and the chance to compete. Zaharias also promoted cancer awareness during a time when people were hesitant to openly discuss personal health matters. She died from colon cancer in 1956 at the age of only 45.

The Babe Zaharias Golf Course

Historical Marker Inscription
Side 1:
The Babe Zaharias Golf Course
Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias (1911-1956) was considered the best athlete in her time, excelling in a variety of sports. She was a two-time member of the amateur Women's All-American basketball team. In the 1932 Olympics, she set the world record in javelin, won a gold medal in the 80-meter hurdles, and silver medal in the high jump (she was penalized for her technique). She started playing serious golf three years later at the age of 22.

Zaharias won 17 straight amateur tournaments, including the 1946 U.S. Women's Amateur All-American Open, and three world championships from 1949-1951. She was a three-time winner of the Women's Western Open and in 1947 she became the first American to win the British Women's Open. She set a 72-hole record in the 1951 Tampa Open. Zaharias and Patty Berg cofounded the LPGA in 1949 and she was inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame in 1951. She was named Outstanding Woman Athlete of the Year from 1949 to 1954 by the Associated Press.

"THE BABE IS HERE, WHO'S COMING IN SECOND?" Her words challenging the competition often rang true! Tampa's Babe Zaharias Golf Course honors the most accomplished female golfer to ever play the game. (Continued on other side)

Side 2:
The Babe Zaharias Golf Course
Originally known as the Northside Country Club but soon renamed Forest Hills, this course was designed in 1925 by J. Franklin Meehan as part of the higher-end community developed by Burks L. Hammer. The Grand Tudor Revival clubhouse, built in 1926, was the community anchor amid golf, tennis, and stables.

Mildred "Babe" Didrikson met George Zaharias at the 1938 Los Angeles Open when she was the only woman competing in the PGA. George, a professional wrestler with Tampa ties, heard from friends that Forest Hills Golf Course was for sale and purchased it in 1949. Together they restored and renamed it the Tampa Golf and Country Club.

In 1950, Babe became the winter golf pro and Forest Hills flourished in the post-war housing boom. The restored course, and Babe herself, served as a catalyst for the rebirth of this neighborhood.

The couple moved to Texas after Babe was diagnosed with cancer, and she passed away in 1956. The City of Tampa took over the course, completing a rehabilitation project sensitive to its design. Named to honor Babe Zaharias, dubbed Female Athlete of the Century by the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN, it reopened in 1974.

Marker location

The marker is located on the Babe Zaharias Golf Course at 11412 N. Forest Hills Drive, Tampa, FL 33612.

The Babe Zaharias Golf Course historical marker was erected in 2023 by the Hillsborough County Historical Advisory Council and The Forest Hills Neighborhood Association.

Last Modified: 1/29/2024, 2:10:27 PM

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